Winter Fat

Margaret, this blog’s honorary wildflower expert, reports that on a recent weekend hike around Mt. Rainier in Washington state she saw lots of bears fattening up for winter.  They were so desperate to pack on the calories that they paid no attention to the humans in their general area.  Seems that the berry crop was light this year because of the weather, and panic is setting in among the ursine population.  Gotta gain weight fast before the Big Snooze!  So a wider range of nutrient sources is in play, and competition for it is more intense.  (I stopped short to check the spelling of “Rainier.”  Bet there’s some local jokes about that, because there aren’t too many places rainier than the Seattle area.)

I see the mild, Virginia version of the same tunnel-vision focus when I’m riding these days.  Many squirrels are pancaked on the road, having forgotten about traffic dangers in their hunt for those extra acorns.  Even on the bike trail, they’ll manically dart halfway across, reverse direction, and zoom for cover into the underbrush from which they just emerged.  Their tiny rodent cousins, the chipmunks, do much the same thing.  Flocks of birds are fattening up to migrate or overwinter, seeking out those late-season bugs and grubs who thought they had made it safely through the summer.  House sparrows and starlings (two non-native pest species, I’m afraid) are the most frequent.  The former swoop like giant locust clouds through the trailside shrubbery, and the latter carpet lawns and grassy areas in their quest for bugs.

Other trailside fauna prepare in other ways.  Snakes are bolder, actively hunting while they still can revel in a bit more warm sun before they go dormant for the winter.  I saw a garter snake scoot across the trail, nearly ran over a smaller grass snake who didn’t see me passing the bike he was originally fleeing from and put on the mother of all frenzied wiggles, and a 30″ black snake who was in no hurry to go anywhere and only reluctantly left his warm beach of asphalt.  Tooling along the Fairfax County Parkway trail yesterday through long dry grass, legions of grasshoppers and other bugs rose up around me as I passed.  I was reminded of the Aesop Fable of the grasshopper and the ant.  These guys are still partying like winter will never come, jumping all over.  Amusing enough, except for the ones that land on my skin and hold on with the tiny hooks they use to grab.  Feels kind of eerie, especially when they land on the inside of your thigh.  Where are those bug-eating birds when you need them?

Meanwhile, my resolve is to watch the buildup of extra pounds this fall and winter.  Seems the human body tends to want to do that, in a vestigial impulse from the cave man days (you know, back in the Creationist Age, when people dressed in animal skins and there were dinosaurs).  The human genome hasn’t gotten the word about central heating, apparently.  So I will be trying to enjoy the heartier foods of the season without making a bear of myself, rooting around for all the extra calories I can find.  All too many of those calories will find me out without my collaboration.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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